“The day after Hurricane Florence plowed through eastern North Carolina—Saturday, September 15—Lucinda sat on the couch in her mobile home in Lenoir County and counted out some cash. Calculating how much water and food her family needed, she was prepped to trek through floodwaters to the closest Walmart with her husband. But before she could put shoes on her kids’ feet, Lucinda received a text message from a friend.
“It was a message people sent around saying that la migra [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] was out here,” Lucindal—who, along with her husband, works in the food system, processing pork and harvesting field crops—recalls. “One person tells another, and then another, and the advice was to not leave the house.”
Making rounds on Facebook and Whatsapp, photos showed at least two Border Patrol trucks in nearby Kinston (purportedly in the Walmart parking lot). This spurred rampant confusion and fear among immigrant communities, who make up the majority of the region’s agricultural workforce. According to the Atlanta office of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), the government deployed 12 officers to North Carolina to assist in relief efforts after Hurricane Florence.”1
Hurricanes are the world’s costliest natural weather disasters and there is evidence that the unnatural effects of human-caused global warming are making hurricanes stronger and more destructive. This trend will continue as ocean waters continue warming, stoking more frequent and intense storms, costing the agricultural industry in states like North Carolina billions of dollars. Farm workers whose livelihood is dependent on crops to pick find themselves at the intersection of climate change and living and working conditions.
Hurricanes destroy crops, flooding fields and shortening the work season for farm workers. Farm workers have the lowest annual family incomes of any U.S. wage and salary workers. After so-called natural disasters farm workers have even less pay and with very few options to find other work. Over 242,000 farm workers are guest workers under the H-2A visa work program with North Carolina with at least 20,000 H-2A workers. Stipulations of this visa require the farm worker to stay with the one employer leaving them no way to work when a disaster causes an end to the season.
Farm workers remain the least equipped to prepare for hurricanes and the least able to get out of their way. Farm workers often do not know about the threats of storms as the notices are only announced in English. If farm workers do know in advance to evacuate fear of detention and deportation keep farm workers from getting out of harm’s way. Just like in the story above the threat of ICE keeps farm workers from going out to out to get their basic needs.
Not only are farm workers at risk of losing work from the storms but also their homes.Many farm workers live in housing provided by their employers. Housing that is close to the fields and in flood plains. The housing is often poorly kept trailers that are susceptible to damage from storms. Even during non-stormy times electricity and running water is not always a given.
For those who have their own housing that is damaged, trying to find new housing after a disaster is extremely difficult. There is a shortage of affordable housing and landlords can charge huge rents for mobile homes, and many of those are unanchored or so old they do not meet newer safety standards. It can be challenging to secure a year-round lease, so farm workers are not ideal candidates as renters.
We are dependent on the labor of farm workers to put food on our own tables yet there are so many factors stacked against farm workers. Farm workers deserve to be able to access shelter during times of disaster without the fear of being separated from their families and the ability to earn a living.
Names have been changed.
Reforming immigration policies is one way to ensure that those who are feeding us are being treated in caring and just ways. The Agricultural Workers Program Act (“Blue Card” Bill) helps address the current immigration crisis in agriculture by providing experienced farm workers with a path to temporary immigration status, followed by an opportunity to earn lawful permanent residency through continued work in agriculture.
Use the Email Action tool from the United Farm Workers to urge Congress to take action to support UFW’s farm worker immigration bill.
Download the Natural Disasters Info Sheet (pdf).
See Farm Workers and the Envrionment: A Curriculum (pdf) Session 2: Climate Disasters on page 9.
Read more about immigration reform at NFWM Current Campaigns.
- Bouloubasis, Victoria (November 13, 2018). “Months After Hurricane Florence, Undocumented Farmworkers Still Struggle to Recover.” Civil Eats. Retrieved July 11, 2020.